Do Music Students Get Better Grades?

image do music students get better grades?

Are you a music teacher looking to advocate for your subject to administration? 

Do you feel the need to “justify” the importance of your art based on its connection to the students’ other academic performance? 

It’s a sad reality of teaching today that music teachers often need to advocate for their own jobs and subjects. I wish it was to say music can change lives because it develops important skills such as: 

  • Personal expression
  • Emotional stability
  • Higher-level reasoning
  • Memory expansion
  • Social interaction
  • Empathy

All this (and many more) should be more than enough to explain our existence in schools, but sometimes people refuse to consider anything which can’t be measured. This is when it may helpful to know about music connection to grades and scores. 

Do music students get better grades? 

Although causality is harder to define, a student’s participation in music is a strong predictor of higher grades in all other subjects except for those relating to sports. Research has also found an important relationship between the length and frequency of music instruction and the impact of music on grades. 

Read on for more details on what some of the research says about music and grades, band participation, math, and academic testing.  

What The Studies Say

In this section, we looked at three studies surrounding music and its impact on student achievement with grades. Here we go over the essentials of each study and sum up their findings for you. 

First, I’ll summarize my thoughts from all three studies for you, but if you’d like to read details on the studies themselves, you can check out their sections below. 

Summary Of Articles

Each article shows what we as music teachers know: being involved in music does improve test scores. The studies show that it happens across all grade levels and subject areas. 

We can also assume a link between the amount of music given and higher achievement. More music = better grades. 

Two of the studies attempt to look at why exactly this is. Does music cause higher abilities or do those with higher abilities choose music? 

Those two studies suggest music involvement may help by increasing reasoning skills and emotional calm during difficult situations. They also note a link between enjoying music and higher test scores in other areas. 

Many music teachers also believe in the impact music has in brain development. This is why we choose things like solfege hand signs to teach.

For more information on the brain and music, I recommend reading Arts With The Brain In Mind by Eric Jensen. This book is awesome (and I picked it up cheap online).

This book would also make a good book study if your admin is looking for a way to help out your evaluation.

Please include attribution to dynamicusicroom.com with this graphic.

Do Music Students Get Better Grades

Does Musical Training Improve School Performance? 

This research article was published by Wetter, Koerner, and Schwaninger in the Instructional Science Journal.  

Overview Of Research

In their research, these authors looked at the grade reports over the course of a year for 134 3-6th grade students in Switzerland. They compared the grades of the 53 engaged in music classes to the other students. 

This research also looked at the impact of duration and frequency of music training on the grades. 

Findings Summary

According to the authors’ research, all students engaged in music training scored higher than the average of the non-music students in every subject area except those related to sports (which showed no significant difference). 

Their research also showed that those who receive more music training have a higher grade overall than those who received it less. 

Mozart Effect, Cognitive Dissonance, And The Pleasure Of Music

Perlovsky and others published this article in Behavioural Brain Research

Overview Of Research

The authors looked at students taking tests while compared to those listening to “pleasant” music. They also studied time on task, time spent thinking on the questions, and difficulty in resolving cognitive dissonance. 

In the case of testing, cognitive dissonance refers to when the test-taker struggles to resolve the answer between multiple potential options. 

Findings Summary

The authors found a significant difference in the scores of those listening to pleasant music while they tested. Those who did listen scored higher in all age levels and subject areas tested. 

They also found students spent more time figuring out each question correctly, and students reported finding it easier overall to resolve their internal disagreement over the problems. 

Students also indicated enjoying the music which may have made them calmer. The authors suggest this as a reason why the benefits from above may have happened. 

Music And Academic Performance

In this research Cabanac and others published in Behavioural Brain Research, the authors looked at the impact of music on academic performance and suggested different reasons why music affects other academic areas.  

Overview Of Research

As a follow-up to the previous article, they looked at the academic achievement of those who chose to take music courses while in school. 

Findings Summary

According to the authors, those music students get better grades. They delved into the reasons music may have improved their scores including: 

  • Listening to music affects their brains
  • Choosing music indicates they’re naturally more motivated students
  • Music practice helps to solve cognitive dissonance
  • Choosing music indicates they’re more naturally gifted as students
  • Enjoying music more helps them remain calm in stressful situations

While causation couldn’t be proved, the authors summarized that students who choose music will score higher, music may help overcome cognitive dissonance, and music enjoyment may be correlated with success in school. 

Does Music Affect Students Math Scores?

Listening to music can improve reasoning and math skills, but performing music is much more impactful on math scores. This may be due to the fact that music involves many mathematical concepts in its performance beyond the normal artistic elements including: 

  • Rhythm
  • Time Signatures
  • Beats per minute
  • Formulaic progressions
  • All visual representations of realistic sound elements

Read more at Brain Balance Centers

Does Music Affect Test Scores?

Yes, according to the 3 studies looked at (and many others besides) there is a clear link between higher test scores and those involved in music. The reason for this is unclear, but it appears being involved in music for longer periods over a stretch of years reaps the most benefits. 

Conclusion

Now when your administration comes to you and says, “Do music students get better grades?” you can respond with some facts. 

Yes, statistically, music students do score higher, BUT it also is more impactful the more music they get. 

So, if you don’t want to buy into the fact that we help build better human beings through our art, then maybe you’ll care about scores improving. 

In what other ways do you advocate for your program? Have you noticed a difference in scores for your music students over those who don’t get it? 

Comment below and let us all know!

Abstract

  1. Cabanac, Arnaud, Leonid Perlovsky, Marie-Claude Bonniot-Cabanac, and Michel Cabanac. “Mozart effect, cognitive dissonance, and the pleasure of music” Behavioural Brain Research, 244, 9-14. 1 May 2013. 
  2. Cabanac, Arnaud, Leonid Perlovsky, Marie-Claude Bonniot-Cabanac, and Michel Cabanac. “Music and academic performance.” Behavioural Brain Research, 246, 257-260. 1 November 2013. 
  3. Wetter, O. E., Koerner, F., & Schwaninger, A. (2009). “Does musical training improve school performance?” Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, 37(4), 365-374.

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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